Maybe finally, O Internet, there will be a hearty intellectual backlash against the Great Snark Backlash of The Early 2010s, as we're now going to call it. At least essayist, blogger, and overall smart person Tom Scocca is sounding the battle cry today against what he loosely dubs "smarm" in an important new piece on Gawker, and we think everyone — especially Jonathan Franzen and Dave Eggers — should read it.

You know how Buzzfeed is hugely popular and now probably more influential in the daily lives of Americans than the New York Times and USA Today combined? You know how they tend to publish predominately fun and happy photo listicles, often about adorable animals, and occasional gif posts about attractive movie and TV stars? Did you know that they have an overall ethos of non-negativity, an ethos that was recently reaffirmed in a conscious announcement by newly hired book section editor Isaac Fitzgerald (who was living in San Francisco, working on The Rumpus and employed by McSweeney's before decamping for New York for the BuzzFeed job)? "Why waste breath talking smack about something?” Fitzgerald said. “You see it in so many old media-type places, the scathing takedown rip... The overwhelming online books community is a positive place." Yeah. That's nice and all. But that kind of attitude is a problem if we have any hope of remaining sharp or interesting as a culture. When there is no disagreement and there are no enemies, important debate ceases and we're all just left hugging each other like hippies and provocative art falls away. There is no qualitative difference, then, between Lolita and The Notebook. That's what Scocca is talking about.

Upworthy (whose tagline is "Things matter. Pass it on.") and other virally obsessive, good-vibes sites are growing in the wake of BuzzFeed's success, pumping out unchallenging and ultra-positive content by the gigabyte every day in an endless cycle of Facebook-share-baiting. Is there any end in sight?

Obviously this trend is far bigger than Dave Eggers and his decade-old battle against snark on the internet and elsewhere — as Scocca points out, one of the last decade's seminal moments, in the tiny world of publishing at least, was Heidi Julavits's 2003 inaugural essay in The Believer, which Eggers helped to found. She railed against the scourge of "snark" in old-school book criticism, as she saw it then, and sought with the new magazine to forge a new tone in which she could discuss books without tearing them down. She had an important point to make at the time — criticism had taken on a more influential role, largely because of the internet, in the ever-shrinking world of books, and it was doing nothing to keep that world from shrinking more. We live in a world where people, even book-loving people, have too many other things to distract them and a single, amusingly snarky review can ruin a decent book's chances of ever getting read. Fitzgerald is echoing the exact same sentiment of ten years ago and wants BuzzFeed (an admittedly less rigorous forum than The Believer) to function as a cheerleading squad for the legions of earnest, middlebrow book-lovers out there who just want to engage with each other politely in the comments like it's their very own book club.

Eggers was far more blunt about this notion. In his now famous response letter to the student interviewer at the Harvard Advocate in 2000, which just made the rounds again on our Facebook feed two weeks ago, Eggers wrote, "Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. ... Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them." It's a sentiment many, many artists have felt over the years, and yet in service to the public, if there weren't any critics, all we'd have are publicity teams and the balance would be undone. Every movie would be Titanic, or The Fast the Furious, and every book would be Tuesdays With Morrie.

But this all started more than a decade ago, before Gawker even rose to mainstream prominence around 2004-5. In the last three years we've seen a snowball effect in the opposite direction, the direction of smarm, as Scocca aptly dubs it, in which social media has proven that the majority of people out there don't want to bitch and complain about everything, they want something to smile at and distract them from the misery of the world, and the most successful websites in our current media landscape are doing only that.

Scocca posits that smarm, however, and not mere positivity, is now the dominant force, both in media and in politics. And far from making us better people, it is definitely making us more boring. Automotons or worse — the fat, happy residents of that floating spaceship in Wall-E, sucking on our smoothies and pointing and clicking to the next set of puppy pictures, and never fighting with each other.

Everyone (or everyone of good faith) must be assumed to basically be in harmony. In his first inaugural address, Obama announced that he—"we"—had "come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics...[I]n the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things."

Maybe, as the last five years might suggest, those dogmas weren't really quite worn out. But to openly disagree with a political foe, let alone to make an openly mean remark, is to invite a smarmy counterattack.

Smarm is central to American presidential campaigns, for sure. Dwell on the positive, never sound too negative toward your opponent and denounce negative politics in general, etc. But aren't we doomed to having an entire culture that sounds like a political campaign, or a "Hang in There" kitten poster, if we let this crap continue unchallenged? Yes, people on Twitter and commenters on blogs can be hateful. They can be small-minded. They can be overwhelmingly negative. Americans hate haters — at least they say they do until they watch some Real Housewives or click onto DListed.

I'd also like to point out that the "irony" of the '90s (Scocca points out that "irony" became "snark" once blogs rose to prominence), and of Gen X media types in general, came about because American culture's dominant mode for several generations had been an overwhelmingly smarmy and earnest one — television and pop music from the 1950s through the 80s, for example — and when you grew up ensconced in too much Full House and The Brady Bunch, you quickly learned how false it was and learned to make brutal fun of it.

But negativity, and criticism, still have a place! And as Scocca astutely points out, the Eggerses and Franzens of the world are just worried that we are all the same "weaselly little prick[s]" that they were at the age of 20, and deep down maybe still are, until their better natures and literary successes taught them to act otherwise. To be petty, to find fault, is to be human. We don't need to be like that all the time — that is just as exhausting as telling everyone to love each other all the time — but if there were no John Stewarts or Bill Mahers calling people on their bullshit, we'd be living in boring, unamusing times, indeed.


Previously: A Few Words About Jonathan Franzen, iPhone Gazing, The Death Of Books, And Hating On Technology